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The Physicality of Music Part 3

Yes.  Disc golf taught me how to practice.

And it looks like this:

I started playing ball golf casually while in college.  So when I heard about disc golf it was a very natural segue.  Honestly, when I first started playing disc golf, I enjoyed it enough to keep playing sporadically but little else.  Throwing the discs is challenging so I made an effort to try and improve mostly so I didn't lose them.

The thing is about disc golf is that it has a very grassroots feel to it.  Tons of people play it--it's the fastest growing sport in the USA--but it doesn't have the "snooty" factor of ball golf.  The general mechanics of throwing are simple and then after that it comes down to style.  There are tons of different throwing styles and they all work.

After sporadically playing disc golf for a year my musical training finally got the better of me and I decided I wanted a lesson on how to throw.  This was easier said than done because, as mentioned before, there's the grassroots element.  Tons of people play but very few offer anything other than casual tips.  But I did eventually find a pro that offered lessons.  What he gave me was the fundamentals.  He showed me how to throw in a way that worked with the how the discs were designed.

This was huge for me.  After a lifetime of playing extremely complicated concertos, being shown how to throw a disc was like sitting down at a piano with only one key.  Unlike ball golf, there really wasn't much to understand other than just physical practice.

What made disc golf so different from all the other physical activities I had done previously was that as soon as I saw that first good drive at my lesson, I wanted to make myself improve.  I wanted to drive further or putt longer.  And my ability to do this had nothing to do with how many lessons I went to or teachers telling me I could progress, it boiled down to sheer physical practice.

There's nothing vague about disc golf.  Anything goes.  There's less emphasis on perfect form like there is in ball golf because disc golf uses natural obstacles.  No one has perfect form when balancing precariously on two rocks with running water underneath.  And even if you launch your disc into a bush with a bad throw you can still make it up with two other good throws.  The only thing that matters is how many throws it took to get it into the basket.

This completely changed the way I thought about music.  Playing an instrument has way more layers to it than disc golf.  As I mentioned earlier in this series, the emotional element alone is worthy of its own discussion.  But these extra layers are just overwhelming if you try and think about all of them.  Disc golf made me realize that underneath all those layers there is just simple mechanics.  If you miss a note, it doesn't mean you're a bad artist.  It just means you have to reset your form and try again.

This was a powerful lesson for me because I finally realized (after playing the violin for more than twenty years) that I had a lot of emotional baggage attached to my personal progress on the instrument.  It did not even matter what the emotional baggage was about, it was just there and it kept me from moving past a certain point in my playing.  I had subconsciously decided that I was fine with my current "artistic level" (whatever that means) and I wasn't going to move past it.

After playing disc golf I came to terms with the fact that I don't really have to push my artistic/emotional level past a certain point.  But there was absolutely no reason why I couldn't become more mechanically proficient.  If I wanted a stronger vibrato I was just going to have to do vibrato drills the same way I do putting practice.  And, ironically, mechanical proficiency has helped me add more feeling to my playing.      


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